Few artists or bands managed to release epoch-defining albums. To each scene there are the chosen few long players that have taken their place in the canon of records that changed the shape of popular culture. Psychedelia has Sgt Pepper’s…, punk has Never Mind the Bollocks…, trip hop has Blue Lines… The list is endless with each scene, each genre and every subgenre declaring key albums as defining moments. But only a small handful actually make it onto these lists… Like I said, very few artists or bands manage to release epoch-defining albums. And even fewer manage two.
Welcome (back) to The Prodigy, who have released more than their share of essential, era-defining albums. None more so than these two albums; ‘The Prodigy Experience’ and ‘Music for the Jilted Generation’ – each a perfect summary of their time, each a signpost to brave new futures.
1992 Britain. The free party movement had evolved into the spectacular turbo-driven rave scene. The media had turned weekend enjoyment into full-blown moral panic while the police seemed to devote much of their overtime to chasing down these folk devil ravers. Huge events drew like-minded souls from everywhere with the promise of hedonistic pleasure and the sense of enlightened positivity gained from a heady mix of good pills and dancing all night to pounding, furious, breaks-driven hardcore. The air was filled with a sense of victory. In the war of the raves, it was the ravers who seemed to be winning. And the Prodigy were there, soundtracking the battles, scoring the victories and capturing the all round joi de vivre with their brilliantly energised singles.
It was into these defiantly grinning times that The Prodigy unleashed their debut album ‘The Prodigy Experience’ in late November ’92 and it immediately flew in the face of that over used idiom, ‘dance bands can’t make good albums’. In ‘Experience’, Liam Howlett and co succeeded in combining the energy of the rave with stunning and timeless production depths. “I remember I had this idea of doing like a rave concept album”, says Liam “but in the end I thought it was too restricting. What I wanted was a full experience, you know like you get with one of the early Pink Floyd albums. Something for every mood but still obviously from the rave scene.” To the Prodigy fans most of the album came as no shock, featuring as it did versions of all of their Top 5 singles to date, alongside other live faves from the band’s already incendiary shows.
The singles appear in brilliantly reworked versions. ‘Charly’ has all but the slightest hint of the cartoon cat eliminated, in its place sits an adrenalised hard and dark, cut up breaks version sub-titled ‘Trip into Drum and Bass Version’. While some two years later the media would grapple with the notion that drum’n’bass was the new version of jungle, The Prodigy had been describing the subterranean sound thus since November 1992.
Elsewhere, ‘Everybody In The Place’ takes on a fresher, more vital air about it while ‘G-Force’ is all but transformed into a full-on hyper speed anthem going under the name ‘Hyperspeed - G-Force Pt 2’. ‘Out of Space”’ (the single that followed the album) presents a rough neck skanking groove with a lift from Max Romeo’s classic ‘Chase the Devil’.
If proof was needed of The Prodigy mainman Liam Howlett’s true potential, it lay in the album’s finest moment ‘Weather Report’, an almost psychedelic episode that opens with a low drone and weather forecasts before emerging into a grandiose, yet sombre string-led refrain. The track then collapsed into a series of abstract noises before launching a downtempo breakbeat that carried the vibe towards it’s huge, thundering climax; complete with the full-on acid madness of a rampant 303 squelching with the intensity of a lightning bolt. A brilliant track that was to give a huge hint as to the future of The Prodigy. A far more complex and assured sound that was moving in a completely different direction to the route the rave scene was disappearing down.
‘Experience’ entered the charts at number 12, selling over 200,000 copies over the following weeks. As a result The Prodigy not only successfully managed to move into the territory of the serious, long-term artist (until that point dominated by the rock scene) but also managed to completely sidestep the fact that the days of the rave were coming to an end.
This, of course, was Howlett’s intention. It was as much a statement of the band’s future as it was a summing up of the rave era. In every inch of the album Howlett was playing with preconceptions of what this scene’s music should sound like, what the scene actually was and how it should be represented. Indeed, even the album artwork challenged the stereotyped computer-generated, multi-coloured images of the era. It’s plain black and white cover opened up to present had drawn cartoon images of the band members - fashioned by future author of The Beach, Alex Garland. Coming as Experience did at a time when dance artists simply didn’t release albums, Liam Howlett had nothing from the contemporary scene to use as a standard. As a result he set his own standards, something that would remain a feature of his work.
Released here with an extra disc of rare tracks, mixes and live versions (including ‘Android’ from the very first Prodigy single, originally drawn from the demo Liam had sent to XL), this all new expanded Experience offers the definitive version of the rave era’s greatest album.
© MARTIN JAMES 2008
On 19 June 2001, an expanded edition of the album was released in the United States, featuring a bonus disc of remixes and b-sides. The original album has been remastered and packaged with a bonus disc, expanded, compiled from remixes and single B-sides. The double disc set now includes all the original mixes of the band’s first five uk top ten hits. It was released in the United Kingdom seven years later on 4 August 2008, with a gold cover and two extra tracks.
The inside has the same credits as experience, except this also says "remastered by Mike Marsh at the Exchange - april 2001"
There is also a bootleg floating around. It looks quite the same, but has only a simple booklet in the front and most noticable, it's only one CD instead of two; Expanded. This release is of course not official.
9 out of 10 - ...A radical enhancement of a bona fide classic....a blast.